I have resisted commenting on the government response to the water releases from the Missouri River dams. There have been some things the government did right, and some areas were the government dropped the ball.
The River has been here long before Lewis and Clark explored this area, most likely long before Christopher Columbus discovered the ‘New World’ over the centuries the river has run high and low; the very course of the river most likely has changed several times. The river and its changes are a part of nature.
We have always sought to understand then control nature; From the grass growing in the front yard, to the predicting hurricanes. We come close, however, we have yet to archive complete control. I still have weeds that grow, and the hurricanes predictions are not always 100% accurate. The same is true when managing the Missouri River. We can try to tame it, control it, in the end nature always has a trump card that will thwart any thing we humans can come up with.
The Corps of Engineers
The Corps of Engineers have been tasked with controlling the uncontrollable river, a tall order to be sure. The Corps has to balance flood control, Hydro-electric production, recreational use, irrigation, navigation, environmental concerns with snow-pack and rain fall in the Rocky Mountains. The corps has to bring together policy, science and politics. This has the making of a no-win situation. The corps is not blameless, there is plenty of blame to go around. It is being revealed that in e-mails as early as April the Corps was starting to become concerned about the snow pack levels. I suspect that in March someone knew something. That is when The Corps of Engineers should have been talking to local officials and FEMA letting them know of the (possible) situation. I understand there may have been some reluctance, so they are not known as the ?The Corps Who Cried Flood.? To their credit, when the time came to build the levies the The Army Corps of Engineers answered the call.
Bill Janklow has had a long standing head-butting contest with the Corps of Engineers. Mr . Janklow believes the Corps has mis-managed The river. The Corps contends they are following the Master Plan. Senator Thune has mentioned on a couple of occasions it might be time to have a good hard look at this Master Plan. I could not agree more. At the same time, The Corps of Engineers knows what is the right thing to do, even when it is not in the Master Plan. There are times that when you need to go off book and do the right thing.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. (FEMA)
There is a perfect example of a good idea taken way too far and turned into a bureaucratized red-tape laden cluster of babbling idiots. What was started in 1803, the federal government providing assistance to a New Hampshire town. Has snowballed into agency that has now oversees Federal Flood insurance program, training of first responders, and they are suppose to assist in disaster response and recovery.
This flood is an Emergency Manager’s dream. The date and time of the flood is known, how much water is coming is known, and the best part, there is time to prepare. It is not like you have two hours to evacuate, You got more like two weeks. The Army Corps of Engineers is at your disposal to build up levies. You have state resources to help protect critical infrastructure. Residents have time to take steps to protect their property then evacuate.
Everyone who is going to be affected goes out and gets flood insurance, thinking once the water goes down they could use that money to rebuild. As the water is rising and people are waiting, with that bright new flood insurance policy in their hand, some one from FEMA stops by and tells them it takes 30 days from the time they bought to the time it goes in to effect. In short, it is not worth the paper it is printed on. Most home insurance doesn’t cover flooding. That means home owner’s have to bear the cost of clean up and recovery. Some would say, ?Why did they build in a flood zone, and not have flood insurance?? When they built house or moved it, they may have had assurances from FEMA and the Corps of Engineers that were not in a flood zone.
A few weeks ago, FEMA, came out and said they were not going to provide individual assistance, they would provide low interest loans to municipalities to help recover infrastructure. Governor Daugaard went to bat, and got FEMA to reverse that decision, and now is opting to provide grants, and low interest loans to people to help them recover. Before people start rejoicing in the streets, they might want to have a look at those checks, The amount might be more of insult than if they offered nothing. This money that FEMA is giving away doesn’t come free. It has to come from somewhere. Given the recent discussion on the debt ceiling, it looks like our grandchildren or great grandchildren will be footing this bill. (Sorry, MC III or the IV)
Where FEMA excels is in providing states and local municipalities with resources it needs to meet the current emergency. In the terms of this incident, if sand bags are needed and there are many empty ones on the west coast, FEMA finds a way to get them from where they are to where they are needed.
Communities along the river
I am impressed with the communities along the river. Once they realized what was about to happen, they formed a plan, the people pulled together and prepared for it. Volunteers came from either side of the state to help. This is what we are known for here. When our neighbors need a helping hand or a hot meal, a dry blanket, or just some help rounding up some loose cattle, we step up and help, and most of the time we don’t whine that it is someone else’s job.
Every community should proud of itself.
Living here is not without risk. There is the risk of flooding, drought, blizzards, tornadoes, hail and the list can go on. When you set your roots down, you accept that risk. While the government can help manage that risk, in the end the responsibility will rest with the individual.
- Will a 3′ berm be high enough or does it need to be built higher?
- Will they walk away from what is left over, or rebuild?
- Do they sell of their herd or truck water in?
- Is there enough fuel for the back up generator?
These are all questions that individual will need to answer for themselves, while the government can provide them with the information they will need; the government should not make that decision for them.
The Missouri River flood was a natural event, with some control provided by the Corps of Engineers, assisted by FEMA. We should not expect the government to take responsibility for natural events. This does not mean The Army Corps of Engineers is off the hook. They could have done a better job of letting communities along the river what could happen much sooner. FEMA did a good job in helping communities prepare for rising water. However, because of bureaucratic red tape, left many homeowners holding the bag with flood insurance that will do very little for them.
In the end it was the communities who worked together to hold off the rising waters. It will be the communities who should (must) take the lead in recovery.